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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Make] Projects 

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build, hack, tweak, share, discover,- 

Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Written By: Dave 



Center punch (1) 

Common Sense (1 dose) 

Hack saw (1) 

Nut Drivers (1) 

Wire strippers cutters (1) 

screwdriver (1) 

Ceramic element: (1) 

Extruded aluminum housing (1) 

Quarter-20 Threaded Rod (1) 

Medium duty extension cord (1) 

Grommets (2) 

#10 screws, nuts, wing nuts (misc) 

Insulated cord clamp (1) 

Oak dowel (1) 

Aluminum Sleeve (6") 
: $4.38 

Fiberglass insulation (1 wad) 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 


A modern method of removing paint from wooden surfaces is the use of infrared rays. This 
method has gained popularity over the past decade as an alternative to mechanical and 
chemical methods of removing paint. Mechanical methods such as sanding, grinding, or 
shaving usually increase hazards such as lead dust. Chemical solutions minimize the lead 
dust but result in a gooey mess that requires cleanup and more chemicals for neutralization. 
Infrared paint removers ofter an alternative which minimizes dust and eliminates chemicals. 
When exposing a painted surface to infrared rays, the rays penetrate the paint, warm the 
substrate below the paint, thus releasing the paint's grip. In practice, the infrared paint 
remover (IPR) held over a painted spot will cause the paint to slowly bubble and lift, making 
it easy to scrape it off with a scraper. IPRs are seen most often used by people restoring old 
houses or windows. They are, however, increasingly seen used in a variety of applications. 
The disadvantage of an IPR is that it is not guaranteed to be effective in every situation. See 
the conclusion of this article for more detail. IPRs are most effective on thick layers of old 
paint, especially aligatored paint. They do not work well on calcimine, milk paints, and will 
not remove shellac or varnish. 

Note that IPRs are not the same as "hot plates," which heat paint via convection. Hot plates 
scorch and boil the paint through proximity to a heated element. That method risks scorching 
the wood substrate and releasing toxic gases. IPRs rely not on convection, but mostly on 
radiation. The goal is to penetrate paint and warm the substrate (wood), releasing the bond 
between paint and wood, slowly, without raising the temperature high enough to vaporize 
lead. When you stand at a sunny window on a cold winter day, and you feel the sun's heat on 
your face even though the air outside may be zero degrees, you are being heated by 
radiation. In such case, energy is transferred directly to you and not via physical contact 
with an warmer object (conduction), nor using air as a carrier of heat (convection). 

In August of 2004, frustrated at the high cost of commercial Infrared Paint Removers 
("IPRs"), I cobbled together a home-made unit using a quartz heater and some 
miscellaneous hardware. I wrote up a small page outlining my experiments for the benefit of 
other old house restorers out there. The response was unexpected. It seems there are many 
out there like to tinker, save $, and DIY. 

Here now is Version 2 of the IPR. Having traded my original scratch-built quartz unit for a 
Herbeau fireclay sink, and in need of an IPR, I elected to investigate this new and promising 
modality of paint removal: ceramic infrared. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 


Commercially sold IPRs use quartz rods to generate infrared rays. My unit would be based 
on a ceramic emitter instead. Why ceramic? One reason is that a ceramic unit would be 
easier to build with fewer parts. Commercial ceramic emitters are readily available. 
Efficiencies for ceramic emitters run from 85 to 96% whereas quartz ran around 60%. 
Therefore, a higher percentage of the energy supplied to the unit would be transmitted as 
infrared rather than light. Quartz rods tend to have infrared hotspots. Cermaic on the other 
hand, produces a more evenly distributed heat. 

The Unit: 

Anyway, yet again, this is the time to point out some safety issues and make a disclaimer. 
Making your own I PR involves electricity. The project involves wiring as well as drilling, 
sanding, and cutting, (jeez doesn't sound too bad) I am not advocating that you run out and 
build one, I am presenting my method here for your review. If you do make one, you do so of 
your own accord. If you electrocute yourself, or burn your house down, well, hey, that's life, 
and your own responsibility. I am comfortable with the potential hazards. You may not be, 
and I urge that if you should make one anyway, you proceed with safety in mind and a good 
dose of common sense. 

Thus my intention to build a new, ceramic based, I PR for the same or less money. 

Step 1 — Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

• The first step was to order the 
ceramic emitter and gather some of 
the other parts that would be 
required to get this show on the 
road. The emitter I selected was a 
Salamander FTE module. This 
particular model (FTE- 120- 1000) is 
specified to operate at 120 volts. 
The emitter is manufactured by 
Mor Electric and can be purchased 
on their website. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 2 

• Conveniently, Mor also offers 
reflectors and housings designed to 
fit their ceramic emitters. These 
housings are designed to be affixed 
to some stationary object like a 
wall or inner oven surface. With a 
little finagling, we will convert it to 
our use. Shown below is the 
housing/reflector as it arrived from 

• The reflector is in the center and is 
of polished stainless steel. The 
housing is made of extruded 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 3 

• The housing and reflector are 
shaped and designed for the type 
FTE element shown previously. 
You can see that the housing has a 
ceramic terminal block installed. 
This makes it very easy to wire the 
element to house voltage. 

• The cap cover for the housing is 
seen in the previous image. This 
plate has grooves which slide onto 
the housing, covering the ceramic 
terminal block and wiring. All is 
held together by the end plates 
(steel). One end plate is seen at 
the left of the image above, the 
other end plate is affixed to the 

• To help visualize it, here is an end 
view with the reflector installed into 
the housing. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 4 

• Confused about how it all 
goes together? Don't be. 
Let's take it apart and start putting 
the pieces together in sequence. 
We have paint to strip. 

• The first step is to install the 
ceramic emitter into the reflector. 
Shown here is the backside of the 
ceramic emitter poking through the 
hole in the reflector. The hole of the 
reflector is designed to accept the 
"knob" of the emitter. 

• The knob has the two leads poking 
out of it. The knob also has 
grooves which allow it to be clipped 
in place using the supplied clip. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 5 

• The clip is the only mechanical 
fastener for the emitter. It is 
sufficient to hold it securely in 
place. Any blunt trauma to the unit 
great enough to dislodge the clip 
would likely break the emitter first. 

• The leads emanating from the 
emitter are part of the emitter itself. 
They cannot be removed. They are 
metal wire encased in small 
interlocking ceramic insulators. 

• Be careful with these. It you 
bust one off then you'll be 
breakin' out that Mastercard to 
order another emitter. Shown here, 
the assembly is simply turned 
over, so you can see the front. 


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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 6 

• OK, we're going to set aside the 
emitter/reflector assembly for a 
moment to concentrate on 
preparing the housing. 

• This image shows the housing 
flipped over, and a thin bed of 
fiberglass insulation is placed in 
the bay which will receive the 
reflector. I grabbed a handful from 
a roll of R13 wall insulation I had 
lying around. The housing has two 
holes for the leads. The insulation 
is cleared from covering these 
holes using the point of a pencil. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 7 

• We've now hit the meat and 
potatoes of the assembly 
operation. The reflector/emitter 
assembly is inserted into the 

• This can only be done one way. 
The leads from the emitter are first 
gently pushed through the holes in 
the housing. Then, the reflector's 
studs are inserted into the 
housing's holes. Two nuts 
(supplied) are placed on the studs 
to secure the two assemblies 
together. In the image I am 
tightening these with a nut driver. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 8 

• Now we can turn the unit upright 
and begin to work on the 
electricals. Shown here, the emitter 
leads are secured into one side of 
the ceramic terminal block. 

• You can see the two nuts holding 
the reflector assembly into the 
housing. You can also see that one 
end plate is affixed (the 
housing/reflector comes 
assembled, I never removed it). 
You can also see the green ground 
lug next to the terminal block. This 
will come into play in a moment. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 9 

• Next we remove the one end plate from the assembly, and modify it along with the other 
end plate. First we are going to install a grommet in the end plate that will hold the power 
cord. These images show the grommet before and after installation. The plates come from 
the factory with all the holes shown in these images. 

• The large hole holds a 3/4" ID grommet very nicely. Only the plate through which the 
power cord will pass is fitted with a grommet. The other plate is left as is. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 10 

• "Height adjusters" are the projections that keep the I PR sufficiently away from the wood 
being worked on. For this design, I elected to place these on the ends of the unit rather 
than along the sides, as is traditionally done. 

• I opted to do this because it is easier to place them on the ends rather than work them into 
the angles of the housing. We'll get into the height adjusters more in a bit, but for now, we 
must prepare the mountings for them on the end plates. 

• The three images here show the end plates being drilled for two screws which will hold the 
height adjusters. 

Step 11 

• Let's prepare the power cord. Mine 
is a medium duty from Home 
Cheepo. You must use a medium 
or heavy duty cord that includes a 
ground wire. Grab it by the neck, 
hold it down on the bench, and cut 
the head off. Don't hesitate or you'll 
get that twinge of guilt so common 
when ruining a good extension 

• Separate the wires and strip 3/8" 
off each one. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 12 

• Here I am dry-fitting the end-plate without the grommet. This one goes on the end away 
from the terminal block. I removed it again shortly thereafter. The screw studs face 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 13 

• Next we take the grom meted end-plate and thread the power cord through it. Then we affix 
the power cord to the housing using an insulated wire clamp. We secure the black and 
white wires to the terminal block. White and black can go in either connector. The green 
ground lead is then secured to the green ground screw. 

• Try to arrange the wires so that they contact the housing as little as possible. The housing 
gets very hot, and I am concerned about the AC wires touching the housing. I intend to 
sheath the wires in Teflon tubing and will update this section when I do. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 14 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

• At this point you might be 
wondering where the power switch 
is. I've elected to eliminate the 
power switch. The unit is turned on 
or off by plugging it in. This 
approach has several key 
advantages: there is no chance the 
unit will be accidentally turned on; 
there is no voltage at the unit when 
it's off; one less part to buy. 

• As for a fuse, I'm investigating 
ways to implement it into the power 
cord. In the meantime, I always 
make sure that the AC outlet is 
properly grounded. I never assume. 
A three-dollar outlet tester from 
Home Depot does the trick. 

• As with the quartz-based I PR, the 
primary safety net is grounding the 
chassis and ensuring that the AC 
outlet used is properly grounded. 

• The secondary safety nets are a 
fuse and the handle. Local fuses 
tend to be used to protect 
appliances. This "appliance" 
doesn't really have any 
components to protect but it's nice 
to know it's there in case the 
ground fails and/or the house 
circuit breaker is slow to act. 

• Thirdly, as you'll see below, in case 
all else fails, the handle is made 
from a non-conducting material 

• It's time to slide the aluminum 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

cover "cap-plate" on. This cover 
has internal channels that engage 
the edges of the housing. Slide it all 
the way on. 

Step 15 

• Now we can install the handle. The 
image here shows the two factory 
supplied mounting studs with their 
cam nuts. One is shown slid into 
the housing cover: 

Step 16 

• In order to elevate our handle off 
the housing, the studs will have to 
be a bit longer. I cut two studs from 
1/4-20 threaded rod. Each stud is 
3.25". Shown here, the old and the 
new. Both are shown threaded into 
the cam nuts, with some washers 
and nuts thrown in for good 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 17 

• The handle is a piece of oak dowel, 
1.25" diameter. It is cut to 10" long 
to match the length of the housing. 
Here the holes are drilled in the 
handle using a jig (sorry, no 
drillpress). A small bit is used first 
for accuracy, then a bit slightly 
larger than the studs is run 

Step 18 

• Next, sleeves are made to cover 
the studs. They are made from 
half-inch hollow aluminum rod, from 
(where else?) Home Depot. Each is 
1 .25" long. A quick swipe with 
sandpaper removes any burrs from 
the hack saw. 

# While these sleeves are not strictly 
required, they add a certain je ne 
sais quoito the finished unit, and 
will hide the only visible vestige of 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 19 

• Here are the steps for installing the handle hardware: Washer on stud, sleeve, washer. 

Step 20 

• Then place the handle, and hardware. 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 21 

• At this point I can mention that the 
lengths of the studs and sleeves 
were selected to keep my knuckles 
from touching the housing when I 
hold the unit. It's very important 
that your knuckles don't touch, as 
the unit gets very hot. If you have 
super huge hands you may want to 
test clearance first. Make the studs 
longer if required. 

• The tradeoff is that with longer 
studs it can be more tiring holding 
the unit in certain orientations. The 
remaining end-plate is now 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

Step 22 

• All that's left is the height adjusters. These I made from some 1.25" aluminum left over 
from the previous I PR. I cut each to 7.5 inches long, and drilled holes to match the studs 
on the end-plates. I rounded over all edges and corners so that these would not scratch 
any wood work. 

• These are affixed with wing nuts so that they can be removed if necessary. Like the 
previous I PR, the height is not adjustable. I never found any need to adjust height once the 
proper height is found. The first image shows the adjusters and wing nuts. 

• To be honest, I prefer not to install them. They do add weight (even if just a little). I 
suggest that you do keep them installed, though; they have the very important benefit of 
ensuring that the unit is not accidentally placed face-down on a surface where it would 
more than likely start a fire if left unattended. 

• With the "adjusters" in place, and more specifically with these adjusters on the ends of the 
unit, it is almost impossible to place the unit any way except on its side. (If you really try 
hard you can balance it face down on its adjusters, but if you round off the ends of the 
adjusters even this will be impossible.) 

The ceramic element requires about ten minutes to heat up. When fully heated, the red logo on 
the element turns black. This unit throws off some serious infrared radiation. Paint sees this 
thing coming and jumps off the wood in fear. I will add action photos soon. 

Caution: the housing gets too hot to touch. Do not touch it when operating the I PR. 

There some improvements to be made and concerns about the design. These are things I am 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 
working on: 

1. The unit gets very hot, and while I have no concerns about the housing and element, I am 
concerned about the cord wiring. This is why, as I mentioned above, I intend to sheath the cord 
wires in Teflon tubing. Inspection of the unit after operation has not shown any melted wire 
insulation, but hours on this I PR are still low. I do not know what the temperature rating of the 
extension cord wire is. More study required. Also, after each use, I open the cover and inspect 
the wires. If you make one of these, you should too. 

2. The infrared output of this thing is phenomenal. The 1000-watt element I am using almost 
seems too much. The height adjusters could actually be longer than 7.5 inches. Using a variac, I 
will lower the operating power and see if performance suffers. I suspect I might go with a 750- 
watt element from the supplier rather than the 1000-watt I am using now. 

Update: The 750W element works fine. I suggest for an all purpose unit, you use the 750W 

3. The unit weighs 3 lbs. 8 oz. This is a little too much. A weight-loss reduction program might 
include replacing the steel end-plates with home-cut aluminum ones. A series of holes could also 
be drilled in the housing itself. Enough holes would lessen the weight and perhaps vent the heat 

Use: These devices are mainly intended for restorers of old houses and others seeking to 
remove many layers of old paint from wood surfaces. The thicker and older the paint, the better 
it works. IPRs will not work as well on fresh paint. Hold the unit over a spot until the paint begins 
to bubble and lift. Do not leave long enough for the paint to scorch or smoke. You want the least 
time possible. When the paint has separated from the surface, scrape it off. 

Time over spot and Height Adjuster length: 

It's very difficult to assign a standard time/riser length to the I PR unit. The reason is that 
different paint sites require different lengths and/or time held over a spot. The factors that weigh 
into this are: 

Age of the paint. Composition of the paint. Thickness of the paint. Color of the paint (white reflects more energy back)Type of 
wood underneath (density)Moisture of wood underneath 

All of the above, and maybe a few I've forgotten, affect the "personality" of the job. You'll find 
some paints lift very quickly at 7 inches, while others need closer spacing for the same time 
frame. You may find that some paints just don't lift at all (like calcimine and milk paints). The 

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Infrared Paint Remover: V2 

rule of thumb is to use the most distance that your patience can deal with. The slower you heat 
the paint, the more the chance the wood beneath has to absorb the heat and release. Also the 
longer you take (slower you heat), the less chance lead vapor releases, because the paint gets a 
chance to release before being heated too hot. Due to the differing nature of old paints, one of 
three things will always have to be variable: the power of the I PR, the length of the risers, or the 
time you hold it over a spot. I tend to vary the distance so that the job at hand takes about 20 - 
30 seconds to bubble a good patch. I have taken to simply removing the risers and letting the 
nature of the job dictate where I hold the unit, but you can also have 2 or 3 sets of risers on 
hand. I'd say one set at 5" and one at 4". A three-inch set may be ok, but you want to be careful 
when you start getting that close. I have seen some paints that would catch fire before they let 
go; if you need to get 3" close, then the I PR might not be suited to the job. Of course, if you built 
your unit with only one job in mind, you can cut the risers to suit that job's needs. One of the 
benefits of a "top heavy" unit is that nobody can accidentally leave it unattended face-down while 
on, thus starting a fire. If your unit can sit happily, it is a good idea to make a metal "tray" for it 
to sit in, so as not to burn whatever you put it on. Even after powering it off, it needs a good 10 
minutes before it can safely be aimed at something. 

I hope you enjoyed my second experiment. 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -1 9 06:03:1 4 PM. 

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